The day finally arrived and our “ship has come in” to Langeliniekaj port in Copenhagen, Denmark. Two days earlier we were notified by an email that there was an opening for two for lunch at the communal table at the food-world famous Noma restaurant. After weeks on the waiting list we could not resist the opportunity to divert our bike riding plans to experience the famous chef Rene Redzepi’s rendition of Nordic cuisine.
Upon entering the restaurant for “the” seating at 12pm, we were greeted with broad smiles by at least ten of the staff each wearing smoky grey aprons standing at the entrance amongst dramatic rugged wood columns. The ambience was clean and tranquil with soft lighting and chairs that were made more comfortable with genuine fur blankets draped over the backs. You felt like you were eating in a friend’s dining room. Our chunky wood communal table sat eight where we were a global and gregarious group from Zurich, Ireland, London, Georgia and Minnesota. One of the couples, Ben and Ellen had just flown in from London for a surprise celebration for Ben’s 30th birthday!
Once we were all seated the food began to descend. The opening dish was a small clay bowl bursting with berries that built anticipation for the 20-plus courses ahead. It beautifully reflected reds and greens of red currants and other indigenous berries. The second dish arrived quickly with a presentation of deep-fried reindeer moss. Mounted carefully on a bed of greens, for a moment you felt like you were alongside a reindeer discovering this beautiful source of protein attached to a birch branch foraging in the forest. A thick dipping sauce made of yeast and whey was provided as a side. Whey is a byproduct from making cheese or yogurt. It added a bit of saltiness and acidity to the reindeer moss, just as you would expect.
Moving along at a brisk pace, we were presented with beef tartare covered in a black coating. As we looked closer, we discovered that the “coating” was ants. We were told that ants add a nice peppery protein-filled crunch and definitely a different perspective. What use to be kale, then beet greens, bugs now appear to be the new food trend.
There is clearly an ethos enveloping each dish of resourcefulness, minimalism, maximum flavor and ingenuity. Each plant, its leaves, stems, and even the bristles are acknowledged for the flavor they bring to complement each unique dish. We all marveled at the presentation of each dish. The adjectives seem inadequate. Clearly creative expression, integration and respect for the natural and local produce of the nordic region are rewarded here. Simple smoked quail eggs pickled in a bed of hay.
Crisp flatbread with grilled wild roses filled your mouth with a bouquet of flowers that was oddly pleasant.
Petite onion grilled with walnut oil and lemon thyme.
Crisp cabbage filled with samphire and herbs.
Broccoli with ceramic cubes and beach herbs.
At some point my eyes became glazed along with the grasshopper glaze. A pastry type of nordic pancake called Aebleskiver typically served with jam turned into a savory comfort food. Filled with lovage greens, parsley and a crisp buttery edge, it melted in your mouth as if your Grandmother just delivered the ultimate comfort food.
Vintage potatoes served with cured egg yolk. The subtle sweetness came from beeswax.
The beet looking dish played tricks on my taste buds as my mind said, “beet” but my tongue said, “raspberry with a bit of saltiness” with seaweed ice cream inside and a fruit jam in the bottom center. Exqisite contrasting flavors.
The flow of dishes eventually transitioned to dessert. Memories of Christmas with the ubiquitous egg nog came flooding to our table with its creamy texture and hint of brandy. Served with fermented plums that were mildly sweet accented with black currant buds. Our communal table moved to a side room with couches and comfy chairs to commune one last time for excellent Ethiopian coffee and conversation.
Pickling and Preserving
Insects are In
We purchased Redzepi’s latest cookbook package that included three books, one is a personal journal where he openly shares a year of his life, noting his struggles with success, encouraging and continuing the creativity process that encompasses his team. His honesty is raw and real. The second book is full of snapshots of his life in and around the kitchen. The third and most important book is the actual cookbook called simply “NOMA’s Recipes.” The cover is nondescript, but inside the photographs are visually dramatic and engaging. Photography of mushrooms, cucumber flowers, and vintage potatoes on milk skins are breathtaking.
I cannot however recommend the book to the average cook because most cooks that I know will quickly become frustrated when they attempt to find uncommon ingredients such as woodruff, ceps, freeze-dried black currants, juniper wood, oat roots or hay ash. Wait, we just got started! Personally I found the cookbook a type of muse with inspiration to create beyond the expected herbs, seasonings and styling rut that I easily fall into. A simple garlic clove now seems well…so simple.
To communicate that Noma’s cooking and food styling is cutting edge seems insufficient and lacking.
We live in a slightly forested area and after this eating experience, you may see me foraging into the forest to discover precious protein moss under the branches. However with winter on its way, I do not want to deprive any deer of the delicacies that await them on the ground or in the trees. They seem to enjoy the pansies in our yard as much as we do. Our four hour lunch at Noma allowed us to meet and mingle with new friends in a way that we would never have experienced at a single dining table. The concept of communal dining created an atmosphere where we could converse over culinary delicacies and communicate our admiration for creative cooking. Thank you for the inspiration Noma. I cannot look at food the same anymore.